The 2,300-acre campus of the Central University of Hyderabad has been in turmoil for some weeks now, with its students and teachers associations going on parallel strikes on the issue of racist profiling, moral policing and the presence of police on their campus.

The teachers are on strike about an incident that occurred on May 31, during the holidays, when the campus was largely deserted. Based on a verbal complaint of "illegal occupancy" and "nuisance", the campus security raided the campus residence of associate faculty member, Gracious Temsen.

Racial profiling

The young professor from Shillong, who teaches at the university’s Centre for Applied Linguistics and Translations, and is active on many campus forums related to the North East, was in her home with her brother and some students, when the campus security, comprising an all-male team, without a warning and without even giving her time to dress presentably, entered  the house and took photographs of the rooms and all those present.

Professor K Lakshminarayana, President of the University Teachers Association, provided some background to the controversy. “The neighbour, who complained, had spoken of beer bottles and loud music to the campus security,” he said. “But the faculty member, who does not wish to be named, has subsequently also expressed shock at the response of the campus security. Being from a sensitive state, they were all terrified by the security staff, and their khakhi uniform.”

Another faculty member pointed out how unusual the episode was. “It is not against the law for the faculty members to consume alcohol at home,” she pointed out.  “Nor is it against any norm to invite students to come home to discuss any issue relating to academics or any issues they might have. She was targeted because she was a woman and from the North East, It is a clear, and not unusual case, of racial profiling by the local staff, especially the security members, against members – faculty and students – from the North Eastern states."

No action

Despite several complaints, the University administration has not taken the complaint seriously, nor has it taken any action against the errant security staff. The Teacher’s Association submitted a petition to the Vice Chancellor who constituted a committee, which did not find anything amiss in the episode.

As a consequence, the teachers went on a strike, contending that the raid was illegal and the committee's findings were not unacceptable because it did not have a member from the North East.

Meanwhile, the 5,000+ students of the university forced a strike of their own, opposing the increased police presence and constant interference in campus matters by the police.

Vincent Benny, President of the University Students’ Association, blamed it on interference by the Union Human Resources Development Ministry. “Based on an order a few months ago from the HRD Ministry, the local police has entered and set up a small base inside the campus,” he alleged. “Giving the justification of following orders to maintain law and order on our large campus, they are constantly interfering in campus affairs. They question boys and girls who are together after 8pm. They have been keeping an eye on all issues and possibly making reports."

Simmering discontent

Despite the strike of the students, the police and the university administration have not responded and the campus continues to simmer and seethe, while the police maintain their positions.

Lakshminarayana, the Teacher’s Association president, explained the reasons for the strike. “The Faculty members are appalled that the VC and administration has so blatantly ignored our complaints and dismissed all our requests for a discussion on the matter,” he said. “We have undertaken a strike. We have given two days’ notice and we will follow this by wearing black badges on Friday. If still ignored, we will go on a relay hunger strike, and then boycott classes, if such an unfortunate situation arises,” he added.

On a similar note, the student leader also warned that the agitation would continue. “We called off the strike on Monday but this is only a pause,” Benny said. “If the police does not withdraw from our campus and stop involving in student matters, we will start a larger agitation.”

Lakshminarayana supported the agitation of the students. “We too feel there is no need for the police to enter the campus until some law and order issue is reported,” he said.  “Arresting students because boys and girls are talking or walking together after sunset is moral policing and we think they are fighting a fair battle.”

In a press-note, the teacher's association also questioned why the Commissioner of Police was officially invited by the administration to address the freshers' gathering where "the police distributed pamphlets threatening the students of expulsion, rustication, suspension and even imprisonment in case students publicly express opinions that the police does not approve of".

The police, on its part, rejected all charges of interference and justified its presence for protection of students, especially given the size of the campus. “When we are here today, you accuse us of moral policing,” an officer on duty said. “If some Nirbhaya like incident happens tomorrow, you will say we did not do anything to prevent it.”

Sriram Karri is the author of the novel, Autobiography of a Mad Nation, long listed for the Man Asian Literary prize.